Permaculture has been getting a lot of attention lately for encouraging farmers to work with nature instead of against it.
During a recent episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly Gather To Grow Interactive discussion on Twitter, our editor for audience and engagement, Dawn Noemdoe, and head of news, Duncan Masiwa, discussed this living-in-harmony-with-nature farming method.
Joining them as expert panellists were:
- Ludwe Majiza, permaculture farmer and teacher from the Eastern Cape,
- Gerhard Weber, Owner of Green Bio, and
- Stephanie Mullins, from from the Mitchells Plain based NGO SEED.
Did you miss this live session? Don’t worry, family, you can listen to the recording below. Meanwhile, here are some of the highlights from the lively discussion.
What is permaculture?
In the session Majiza, describes permaculture as a design science where the farmer uses and works with nature, using natural elements as much as possible.
Majiza points out that the three main ethics of permaculture are, “earth care, people care and fair share”.
Meanwhile Weber gives a practical definition of permaculture.
He explains, “[it is about] maximising your water penetration and water retention in your soil and then having multi-crops from animals, integration, vegetables, trees – specifically production trees and fruit trees – all on the same contour line”.
“[This allows] water [to] actually [run] zig-zag down your farm so you can maximise the water that you have.”
Joining the panel of speakers, Mullins explains that they teach permaculture in a more personal way and focus on the culture part of permaculture.
This is done by looking at the principals and ethics of permaculture and how people can incorporate it into their daily lives and live more sustainably.
Observe and interact
So, if you did not know, there are actually twelve principles of permaculture.
They include; observe and interact, catch and store energy, obtain a yield, apply self-regulation and accept feedback, use and value renewables, produce no waste, design from patterns to details, integrate don’t segregate, use small, slow solutions, use and value diversity, use edges and value the marginal and creatively use and respond to change.
During the session Majiza highlights that observe and interact” is one of his favourite principles of permaculture. “When you are on your piece of land, when you are amongst people, it’s important to take note and interact with nature and be one with nature,” he says.
He suggests that a farmer takes twelve months to really observe and understand their land. By doing this they will get to see how their land operates in the four different seasons and they will be able to farm more effectively.
Obtain a yield
Weber says that one of the biggest struggles that farmers have is obtaining a yield once they move over to a permaculture system.
“It does not help you have the nicest soil, but you have to sell your farm to your neighbour because you don’t make money because all the principals you are using is going into your soil. You have to obtain a yield,” explains Weber.
He suggests starting off slowly when transitioning to a permaculture system. “If you can afford to spare ten percent of your land and restore that into a permaculture system, you’re on a much better footing than if you try to do hundred percent in one year and you don’t get a yield,” he explains.
Meanwhile, Mullins says all the principles are interlinked, one cannot exist without the other.
“If you look at ‘observe and interact’ as well as ‘apply self-regulation and accept feedback’, it’s basically asking one to speak to the other. So, if I apply self-regulation it means I’m also speaking to ethics.
“If I apply self-regulation, am I applying self-regulation in the sense that I am using my energy wisely? Am I accepting feedback? Am I growing the same thing and its just not growing in the space where I am at?” she explains.
Use and value renewable sources
When it comes to the “use and value renewable sources’ principle, Maliza says that it refers to renewable sources from elements such as plants, animals and soil. It is important that farmers value using renewables sources as well as valuing everyone’s contribution.
Majiza also place emphasis on reusing items. When it comes to the “produce no waste” principle it is important to look at ways of reusing.
Meanwhile Mullins reckons that “produce no waste” can also be used with the principle of obtaining a yield. She uses the example of using the weeds in one’s garden for compost or making a weed tea for liquid fertiliser instead of throwing it away.
Unfortunately, permaculture farmers do not have it easy with market access. However, Majiza says certified organic retailers are likely to be less reluctant to accept produce from farmers who produce the permaculture way. Action, he says, is being taken to ensure that permaculture farmers’ products are able to get to market.
Don’t forget to join the Gather To Grow live sessions, hosted @foodformzansi on Twitter every Wednesday at 18:00. Next week’s panel discussion will be on registering your farming business.
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